Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Interlocking dialogue

Something I'm working with now is making dialogue sound authentic but also rhythmic in the way GOOD conversation sounds in real life. (I don't mean the slack, empty sort of conversation that's trendy now in commercials: "Remember that... thing we were sort of, you know, working on? Well...." "Hey, awesome, that thing!" Arggh. It's like listening to my cat suck on his paws.)

Anyway, I was writing about a conversation... the man last month suddenly got cold feet and broke off his engagement. He's been thinking and growing, and he's now decided he's ready to commit. The ex, as you might expect, isn't quite as ready. So anyway, difficult conversation, but I want to show that they are right for each other, by using the subliminal technique of making their conversation interlocking, cohesive, rhythmic. Like good sex. :)

So I experiment until it sounds right!

Here are my experiments:


John: What's changed is the value of your love.
Mary: That hasn't changed. It's got the same value as it always did.
John: Well, then, now I realize it. I'm not regarding it as a trap now.
Mary: A trap? My love is a trap?
John: I don't mean it's a trap. I mean I don't think of it that way anymore.
Mary: But you did last month?
John: Last month. Yeah.
Mary: Just last month.

(alternatives for next part)
1. John: Maybe I've learned my lesson.
Mary: No, maybe I've learned my lesson.

2. John: Maybe now I've learned my lesson.
Mary: Well, maybe now I've learned my lesson.

3. John: So maybe I've learned my lesson.
Mary: So maybe I've learned my lesson.

4. John: So maybe I've learned my lesson.
Mary: So maybe I've learned mine.

Anyway, what emendations would you suggest to make this "sound" like interlocking conversation, where the speakers pick up each other's keywords and rhythms? Which of the samples at the end there sounds best to you and why? Does anyone else dwell on this sort of thing as I do?
Alicia

17 comments:

Melissa said...

I think it would be helpful if we knew what emotions the speakers were having along the way.

Is John supposed to be getting defensive? To me, "Maybe" and "So maybe" are coming across as defensive. If he's not supposed to be defensive, then I would probably go with "Yeah, but" because he's not realizing that he's pissing her off and is anxious to show her how much he has changed.

Have you run this past a guy? I have a hard time imagining a guy thinking about the value of love.

Edittorrent said...

Melissa, you are a cynic. :)

Men, in my experience, tend to recognize the value of love within a few days of having lost the love!

I am someone who uses adverbs in quote tags, so I might well add "he said defensively." And I'm not ashamed to say it! (This is aimed particularly at a friend who would die rather than use an adverb. :)

But I want the conversation to sound right even before I "explain it" with tags. Hence the script format.
Alicia

JewelTones said...

I find myself dwelling on this kind of thing too. :)

My answer though is a mix of the offerings. One is because -- and I know it's not the intent of the meaning of the words -- the "so maybe" and "maybe now" make it sound like John might have learned his lesson but in a few days could change his mind again. "Well, maybe now I want chocolate cake for my birthday."

The 2nd reason is because the flow of conversation really seems to be narrowing down to the core of things with each response.

Last month. Yeah.

Just last month.

Maybe I've learned my lesson.

Well, maybe I've learned mine.

JT

Leona said...

I'm with JT for the rythym aspect.

Also, my husband is a good example of what Alicia is saying. He's bipolar, though, so maybe what he needs to see things is the extreme example. He has to have lost it, even for a moment, before he realizes the preciousness, or strength of what he has.

Also, he has been working at a manufacturing place and some of the conversations he's reported are very "girl-like" in their sounds. Briefly, one man met another (as in 'the other') woman online. He's not married, but has been living with same woman like 14 years (married in my book!)He asked my husband for advice. My husband, having learned this lesson through much blood (his) and tears (mine), says, "If you took sex out of the equation with this new girl, would you be thinking of leaving your wife?"

Long and short of it is, they do talk, and they do reflect. And, they can learn :D

I think the way you've written this is also very apropo for most guys. They don't like discussing the lessons they've learned and they usually think that now that they have learned them, the woman will be eternally grateful and fall into their arms blissfully happy, all hurt gone.

Murphy said...

Are you guys serious? The value of your love, line? I love. Because he’s saying the value of her love, in his estimation, has changed, but he left out that important part of his declaration of change. That’s why the next line is great. She gets it - and that’s why I felt I wanted to trim the repeated value.

There’s an explanation below for whatever I did with this.

John: What's changed is the value of your love.
Mary: That hasn't changed. It's still the same.
John: Well, then, maybe now I realize it. I don’t view it as a trap.
Mary: A trap? My love is a trap?
John: I didn't mean it like that. I mean I don't think of it that way anymore.
Mary: But you did last month?
John: Last month. Yeah.
Mary: Just last month.
John: Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson.
Mary: Really? Well, maybe I’ve learned mine.

Okay, so I touched a few things. Value and value repeated - I could be wrong here, but I actually like what he said and I think her repeating it takes the power of his declaration away. Yet, in a strange way, her NOT repeating it, diminishes it in a different way. Hmm...
I like the maybe in the third line - and, as I have no idea how this guy talks in regular life - I liked the word view instead of regarding. *shrug* just a preference.
Line 4&5 : Again, too many traps for me. :)
Last two: I like the trust me - because that’s the last thing she should want to do right about now. He hurt her and her head is saying run away - stay away from him - don’t listen, but the old heart is saying: I really like the sound of his voice. A few minutes more won’t hurt...

Murphy

Laura K. Curtis said...

This doesn't ring particularly true to me. It's too repetitive. My changes would be similar to Murphy's. Plus, if he's sure he's changed his mind, I don't want him saying maybe. His word won't have any meaning to her if he does.

John: What's changed is the value of your love.
Mary: That hasn't changed. It's got the same value as it always did.
John: Yes, but now I realize it. I'm not regarding it as a trap anymore.
Mary: A trap? My love is a trap?
John: No! That's what I just said: I don't think of it that way anymore.
Mary: But you did last month?
John: Last month. Yeah.
Mary: Just last month.
John: I know it hasn't been long, but trust me, I've learned my lesson.
Mary: What you don't seem to realize, John, is that I've also learned mine.

Laura K. Curtis said...

P.S. Are either of you going to RWA?

Jami Gold said...

Alicia,

I think just about everyone here has agreed that John's #1 line is best (rather than the "Maybe now..." or "So maybe..."). In my experience, guys don't qualify or equivocate their words that much and all that hemming and hawing doesn't ring true. I think that's why Murphy's suggestion is potentially even better, depending on the voice of the character.

So, I'd go with Murphy's suggestions for most of it, except for line #3 (which has too many of those qualifiers, "Well, then, maybe now..."). Laura's suggestion for that line with the "Yes, but..." fits better for that reason.

Brainstorming right along with here...
Jami G.

P.S. Hey Laura, the Divine Ms. Murphy & I are going to RWA, will you be there? Anyone else from the blog going?

Laura K. Curtis said...

Absolutely, I am going. We should have a "grammar geeks blog" meetup!

Murphy said...

Hi Laura!

I'm in for sure! :) I'm sure Jami is, too. I'll just hop on her awesome website @ www.jamigold.com and check with her. :D

Murphy

Edittorrent said...

Great thoughts, everyone! I really get the idea of making the LAST line longer too.
Will be at RWA, but not arriving till late Fri!
Alicia

Jami Gold said...

Laura,

Yep, a blog meetup sounds great! I'll take this to email. If anyone else from the blog is going to RWA, speak up! And email me! :)

Jami G.

Eva Gale said...

...your cat sucks its paws?

Wes said...

Of course guys value love. They need it and want it. Ever see a guy lose love? It's not a pretty sight.

Wes said...

A great post. My personal opinion is that the best dialog is without tags and adverbs. If the writer can convey the situation and emotions without these, he/she has done a good job. And working on this surely will improve the writer's skill.

Alicia said...

Laura, yes, I should have made clear that the pairs of John/Mary at the end there were the alternatives I was trying, not their conversation, although I have to say, I've been in some conversations repetitive like that.

Eva, yes, my cat sucks his paws. Presumably to clean them. Let's not think too much on that. :) Just know that the sound is horrible!

Alicia

Murphy said...

Hey, I can make a really great case on why that maybe in the third line should stay. And I will.
Line three - which is important in my eyes - mirrors the last line which, I think, is equally important.

I mean, in essence, they're both saying the same thing. They've learned...maybe. Because if what they'd learned were written in stone (as in, they announced it firmly and with conviction) then there's no room for either of them to bend. And someone's going to have to bend if they're to be together, right? So, in my mind? Maybe is a good word to use sometimes. That's all I'm saying.

Hmm...that's not all I'm saying because I'll add this:

And in this particular instance, you can use that word in line three to give the reader hope - and then repeat it in the last line to dash that hope away. You gotta love that.

Murphy :D